It's not a long wait for my dinner -- just long enough for a remixed version of "Baby Got Back" and a news video on the muted TV showing two kangaroos boxing in a suburban neighborhood in Australia. My plate arrives, a fancy diamond-shaped platter well suited for the polished, black and silver decor of the place -- if not the simple, rustic fare presented on it.Potatoes, cucumbers and pork -- a meal served to generations of countless country farmers and villagers across a Slavic countryside spanning several countries. The potatoes are sliced into thin rounds and deep-fried to a golden crisp, pale and soft where they overlapped in the fryer basket. The cucumber salad with its strong, herbal presence of dill smells and tastes exactly like my grandmother's -- a summer farm mixture held together with a sour cream dressing.
The schnitzel is the best I've had so far in this month of breaded cutlets. The meat is pencil-thick and tender; the bread-crumb coating is perfectly cooked and loudly crunchy. The sauce, more like a gravy, has an odd orange tint, like a cheese sauce, but is rich and creamy with a subtle mushroom flavor, cut by a drizzle of what must have been balsamic vinegar. I take turns tasting the porter and the schnitzel until both are gone, and then I use the potatoes to mop up the last of the gravy and the remnants of the sour-cream dressing from the salad.
I can picture the subterranean spot on a busier night, packed with black leather jackets and buzzing with the sibilant whisper of Polish beneath a house beat and the hard smack of empty vodka shots hitting the bar top. I prefer a quieter atmosphere over the dark, metropolitan scene, one where I can learn a new word and savor a beer without having to shout to be heard. But I'd come back at any hour for a plate of good schnitzel, although later in the evening I'd also order a house-infused vodka or two -- garlic or horseradish, most likely, just to balance the modern and shiny with something homey and unsophisticated.